Spacetime, consciousness, nihilism and getting lost in assholes reverse ouroboros style....


(Bloggers Note: Please be warned that I'm about to go so far up my own asshole in this post that my head will somehow pop out of my own mouth, reverse ouroboros style. But once we deal with this abstract, perhaps-not-even-coherent bullshit, we can move on to more practical and pragmatic matters. This is also a REALLY long post. Apologies) 

Many a client I have had where I've had almost the exact same conversation as what follows:

Client: I want to, like, use shrooms or LSD or go down to South America to try Ayahuasca and become enlightened.

Me: I'm not an expert on enlightenment or anything, but I don't think that's the way enlightenment works.

Client: Of course it does. Don't you ever listen to Joe Rogan? He's tried all kinds of Hallucinogens.

Me: I have and he's kind of a turd. If that's enlightenment, I'm not real interested in it.

Client: Why do you do that?

Me: Do what?

Client: Do that. Rain on my parade. You don't know what you're talking about. You're just like everyone else--stuck in the ordinary, bro. You're too scared to leave the ordinary world and explore something exciting.

Me: Ordinary? You think ordinary is ordinary? You ever sit quietly somewhere and just become completely thunderstruck by how fucking weird existence is, man. Like, you, you sitting there in that chair talking to me about hallucinogens and enlightenment. Like what the fuck, man? Like how crazy is it that there's a Universe at all. Where did it come from and why? If it was God, where the fuck did God come from and why? And within that Universe, all kinds of shit exists--like energy and atoms and the forces that bind everything together. And through the interaction of all the things within that Universe--which, again, shouldn't even really exist at all-- stars are formed and planets, and on at least one of those planets something called "life" exists. And life itself doesn't really make sense if you think about it. Why does life exist within existence? It doesn't make any sense. It's so fucking wild, dude. And somehow, through life interacting with life we got all kinds of crazy lifeforms, including humans. And humans somehow learned math and poetry and science and language. And you! You shouldn't even exist. Your father had billions of sperm in that one ejaculation that led to you. Never mind all the other ejaculations. Like, if he had masturbated like 10 minutes earlier instead of waiting to get laid, you would've been spitballed into a piece of toilet paper, man. And then you got to think of all the ejaculations of all your ancestors and the odds of you being here to talk to me, and of me being here to talk to you, and it's just ASTRONOMICAL. Beyond comprehension, dude. HOLY SHIT NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE. It's a total trip and total mindfuck, man. What the fuck do you need drugs for?

Client: ...

Me: ...

Client: Bro, you need to try ayahuasca. Might level you out a bit. And why did you make me think of my dad and ancestors masturbating? That's kinda weird.

Yes, I almost always lose that battle with my clients, but such is my fate, I suppose.

Anyway, the point here is that if we never take the time to really try to be dumbfounded by existence, we can't ever really learn how to create meaning in our existence. We just stumble through life thinking the answer to our perceived lack of meaning exists in some drug somewhere, or some religious doctrine, or some idiot's podcast. Never right here, right now, right where we are.

To gain some sort of idea of how we want to approach each of our own individual existences, and to make something resembling "sense" out of it, it seems wise to gain a sense of perspective about what our existence means, in the "grand scheme" of things.

The (passive) nihilist gazes upon the vastness of the night sky and feels minuscule and  insignificant. He is overwhelmed with existential fear and loathing. If he is an American, he may put his existence into perspective by playing a common game of scale. Most Americans live an urban lifestyle. So our theoretical American might look up through a haze of pollution and artificial light and catch sight of the moon--if it is indeed "out" that night--and a handful of the brightest stars. (Keep in mind that one of the upsides of modern urban living is the fact that one cannot truly gaze upon the nighttime Universe and tremble in its wake. Out of sight, out of mind... and all of that.) And this American might suddenly become aware of his lonesome body, standing desolate in his, say, backyard, which, in turn lies somewhere in, say, Denver County, which itself is part of the larger Denver Metropolitan area, which in turn is a part of the state of Colorado, which in turn is a part of the United States of America, which in turn is a country in the Western Hemisphere and on the Continent of North America, all of which is part of a small blue planet called--by its inhabitants--Earth, which is but a small part of a solar system which lies at the farthest edges of the incredibly large Milky Way Galaxy, which is but one of billions upon billions of other galaxies in the known Universe. And if that weren't enough, there's the possibility of, beyond a vast unknown Universe, the existence of multiple, perhaps infinite other Universes, numerous amounts of them potentially being vastly larger than our own Universe. And so on. It is at this point that one realizes one's own inconceivably modest and, quite frankly, hopeless scale.

For anyone with the right set of eyes, this would be a liberating, dare I say, enlightening realization. But one of the Big Secrets about human beings is that most of us are Nihilists-- secretly, of course. We take stock of our meager scale and secretly believe that because we are small that we are useless. A waste of space. A mistake of the most incomprehensible order. We keep ourselves busy and distracted from the night sky. We live in polluted and overlit cities so that we do not have to confront these thoughts. Which is ridiculous anyway, as the worst, most frightening possible thought in those moments is probably something along the lines of "One day I'm going to die, and I will disappear, and there won't be a heaven, and my life will have meant nothing in any way at all."

Well, first off, if that's the worst thing that can possibly happen, maybe things aren't so bleak after all. That means, at the very least, that I can enjoy my life, and every tenuous moment of it freely, with no concern about the repercussions of how I choose to enjoy my life. That doesn't sound so bad.

Even so, there's a different way of looking at the whole situation. It takes some courage, and it requires some creative thinking, but it's well worth the effort if one attempts to do it.

The main problem here is gaining a certain understanding about space and time. I have tried to express my own understanding of it both verbally and through various written exchanges over the internet. When I am speaking to someone face-to-face, and I explain my theory, almost  invariably their eyes glaze over, and I can't tell if they're making some kind of genuine effort to grasp what I'm trying to express, or if they're making some kind of genuine effort to try to think up a way to get as far away from this madman as possible. Do they need to call somebody? Who would they call? You can't just call the cops because someone's insane... can you? Hurry, think up an excuse to go someplace else. NOW.

Meanwhile, over the internet, people generally just ignore my comments. There's nothing in them to take seriously. It's somebody with a written form of Tourette's. There really should be a law preventing some people from attaining internet access.

Anyhow, here I am. And I'm going to attempt to explain this understanding once more. This is the most thorough, concerted effort I have ever made regarding this issue. I have spent more time than I care to admit trying to figure out how to make the idea conceivable to others. I don't know if this is going to be successful or not, but here I go.

To understand just how important we are within the confines of a probably infinite Universe, we have to understand our role in creating the Universe. In short, we, with our central nervous systems, and the "consciousness" resulting from that central nervous system, create the entirety of Spacetime as we know it. In short, Spacetime, and the Universe as we perceive it, does not exist unless we are here to perceive. It non-exists.

If you're sane, this is probably the part where you either ignore me or you think up ways of getting me "professional help." But bear with me for a moment. Give me an honest chance before handing me over to the proper authorities.

Many far greater thinkers than I have insisted or at least considered that time is an illusion. But this idea is almost impossible for the typical person to understand. How can time be an illution? It's here right now. Right now as I sit pondering this stupid idea, time has passed. Time passed from when I woke up this morning, went to work, ate some lunch, came home from work and am now pondering this nonsense before bed. Time was there when I was born and has been there as I've grown into an adult. Time, time, time. It's always there. Always dragging me along with it. How can it be an illusion?

To fully understand, let's try a so-called thought experiment. Let's take the objective measurement of time called an "hour." An hour is an objective measure of time. But is time itself objective? (NB: This question doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. One can live a perfectly happy life never even asking the question, much less answering it. But we're all human beings, and some of us enjoy the glorious wasteful pondering of stupid questions.)

Time itself is not objective. Not in any meaningful sense.  The corresponding thought-experiment is thus: think about the most pleasurable hour possible. For each person this will be something different, but I want you to think about the most pleasurable hour you can imagine. Do you have it? Do you have an idea or an image? Ok, keep there. For the sake of providing a concrete example, I'll share with you a non-sexual (you should thank me for this) example that is true for me. When I think of a highly pleasurable hour, I think of sitting in my backyard during a cool summer's evening, staring at the stars while drinking some green tea. Maybe my children are also outside playing, but they're leaving me the fuck alone, or, at least, not bugging me. I can hear the bouncing of a basketball at a nearby park and young adults somewhere laughing. I'm shooting an entire hose-full of OFF on my skin every five minutes to keep the bloodsuckers at bay.This is it for me. I'm boring. But I'm happy.

Now, let's imagine the absolute most painful, torturous hour you can imagine. I'll just jump to the chase--I'm being gang-raped in a prison shower. It's never happened, thank god, but Jesus, does that sound terrible.

So, do you think both hours would go by just as quickly? Would your pleasurable hour seem to go on forever, while your painful hour ended with the feeling that it was all too quick?

Maybe let's get a little more concrete. Let's take actual memories. They don't have to be anything grand. Just typical day-to-day shit. For me, my pleasurable hour will be watching Kill Bill Vol. 2 at the theater for the first time. I was 19 and I was suffering one of the worst hangovers of my life. But I remember looking at my watch, hoping that there was still an hour left in the movie, because I didn't want it to end. But when I looked, two hours had already gone by and the movie was basically over. How could that be? It just started.

Now, my painful hour was the "conditioning" portion of wrestling practice in high school. It was doing burpees and push-ups and mountain climbers and wall-sits until I wanted to puke. I remember thinking if I sang songs that I enjoyed in my head while the madness was ongoing, it would make the time proceed much quicker. But it was to no avail. Three minutes of burpees seems like an eternity.I can't even imagine what a whole hour of burpees would feel like.

A smart person now realizes how non-objective time is. But most of us are not smart. I'm certainly not. And so most people would still think, "That proves nothing. You can't make sweeping statements about time based on your own personal, subjective experiences of it."

And I say, "Why not?" If an objective measure of time does not feel objective to me, in my same brain and central nervous system, how much more the difference between two different people? Or two different species? Do you believe that an hour for you is experienced anywhere near the same as it is for an ant? Or a flea? Or a microbe?

Of course not. Time does not exist without a consciousness to experience it. Probably it doesn't exist without a consciousness to create it.

Again, taking subjective experience as our marker, think about how long a year felt when you were 10 years old. The time between birthdays was interminable. Hell, I remember being a teenager and feeling like I'd die before I turned 25, because it was simply too much time. How could nothing catastrophic happen between now and then?

But by the time you're in your 30s, time is already sprinting ahead of you. You can't keep up. The seasons pass by as if you were in hyperdrive. The years rush by like a 100-mph fast ball. A year is a flap of a hummingbird's wing, a flick of a snake's tongue.They've started and ended before you've begun. It's maddening and vaguely depressing.

The experience of time changes because the older you get, the less significant each hour becomes. One year when you're 10 years old is one-tenth of your life-span. One year when you're, say, 51, is one-fifty-first of your lifespan. How can the experience feel the same?

Since time and space are essentially identical, we can play this same thought experiment through when it comes to space. A mile is an objective measurement of space. But how different it is for a dung beetle as compared to a woman? Or, better yet, think of the difference between driving 100 miles, which is, if anything, a minor inconvenience, versus the tribulation of having to walk 100 miles. Or, even better, let's get small. Think of a decimeter. It is so irrelevant to us that we don't even really notice that amount of space. But for a microbe, it is its entire Universe. And suddenly the length of space isn't so objective.

The primary point here being that time and space must be created. They are created by each form of consciousness. I create my own experience of spacetime. You create your own. The antelope creates its own. The gecko creates its own. The ant creates its own. The microbe its own. And so on.

And the reason why this is so important is so that, if you can imagine what time and space look like from another's point of view, imagine what it looks like when there is no point of view. Imagine time and space without a consciousness to experience it.

There's nothing there. It's empty. Without consciousness to break them down into segments, the idea of time and space loses meaning. Without a consciousness around to experience them, all things happen at once in the same non-time in the same non-place. There is no perspective, no "point of view" to distinguish things. Consciousness as we know it creates time and space, but it might be helpful to think of it as slowing time down and stretching space out. We smirk at the insignificance of the microbe, all the while ignoring the possibility of a consciousness out there somewhere smirking down on our very meager experience of the Universe.

If science is correct about the origin of the Universe and the Big Bang, when we talk about the millions, perhaps billions of years that passed between the initial expansion of the Universe and the sprouting of consciousness, we're not talking about years like we understand them. Without a consciousness around to determine, "Hey, a billion years is a long fucking time," then time is meaningless. The birth of the universe and the birth of consciousness occurred simultaneously, even though they were millions/billions of years apart, because time only has meaning if there is a consciousness around to experience it.

And, hopefully, now, it's clear why we are anything but insignificant. Why we can look out at the infinite vastness of the night sky and realize that it simply wouldn't exist without us gazing upon it. We exit only within the realm of spacetime, but spacetime exists only within the realm of our own consciousnesses. Or, as Eckhart stated, "The eye with which I see God, is the same eye with which God sees me." We exist only because of the Universe, but the Universe exists only because we experience it. And we each experience it in our own way, providing the Universe infinite perspectives for it to experience itself.

In short, while we grow spontaneously from the Universe, we are also the creators of said Universe.

This doesn't mean, of course, that I can "create" a billion dollars in my bank account from out of the ether.

I'm also not selling some "The Secret"-like idea that I can will a billion dollars into my bank account just by thinking about it all the time. Trust me, I've been willing fame and fortune into my life for at least the past 29 years and that obviously hasn't happened. Hell, I can't even will more than a handful of unique viewers to my blog every month.

What I am selling, though, is that if I'm powerful enough to literally create the space and time of my Universe, then I'm at least powerful enough to create what kind of Universe I live in.

For if I believe the Universe in which I am is a cruel, heartless, mean one where things happen to me because I am small and impotent and meaningless, then that's the kind of Universe I will inhabit. That's a depressing Universe. And I will be depressed or anxious the entire time I'm residing in that shithole of a Universe.

But if I see the Universe as something else--as a series of challenges and puzzles and obstacles that I must solve or figure out so that I can become a better Universe-creator, it doesn't solve all my problem, but it reframes them as maybe not actual problems in the first place. Which then leads to me being so depressed by all the problems that seem to plague my Universe.

"Reality" in and of itself is not so important. It's the stories we tell ourselves about reality that are a matter of life and death.

And so this where courage is necessary. As I've written about before, we all watch movies and television shows where unsung heroes must slay dragons and battle evil empires and, along the way, solve entire litanies of problems and overcome endless obstacles. Many of us even play video games where we must start off as unskilled, unimpressive characters who, through the triumph over various obstacles along the way, we become tougher, more skilled, more interesting characters. But when we're asked to be heroes of our own stories, our own Universes, we cower in shame and depression and anxiety.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

"Everything happens for a reason," is a lame cliche and a lot of people smarter than I am hate it. However, in the day-to-day battles of everyday, "ordinary" life cliches can have the power to change lives. You can choose to believe that the Universe is random and meaningless. Or you can choose to live in a Universe where everything happens for a reason.

It's completely up to you.

And my experience with many of my clients suggest to me that that reality is probably the scariest thing of all, for a whole lot of people.

Comments

  1. If you need any help driving home your point, there's a great clip from Alan Watts that echoes (and helps to crystallize) it almost precisely:

    What is it to See?
    http://youtu.be/hCOJnIysQ1A

    Also, was reminded of a great quote from GK Chesterton (as to the contemplation of size/scale):

    "Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all, so that to it all the cosmic things are what they really are — of immeasurable stature. That the trees are high and the grasses short is a mere accident of our own foot-rules and our own stature. But to the spirit which has stripped off for a moment its own idle temporal standards the grass is an everlasting forest, with dragons for denizens; the stones of the road are as incredible mountains piled one upon the other; the dandelions are like gigantic bonfires illuminating the lands around; and the heath-bells on their stalks are like planets hung in heaven each higher than the other."

    Finally, haven't fully read them yet, but someone recommended to me a two-volume series of books by a guy named Rupert Spira called "Presence" ("The Art of Peace and Happiness" and "The Intimacy of All Experience"). Said they were along the lines of Douglas Harding's work ("On Having No Head"), which I quite enjoyed. Can't exactly attest to/vouch for their own content and quality, but might be worth looking into.

    Anyway, loving the blog and keep up the good work!

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  2. Jesus, I'm going to need more time to read. Love the Chesterton quote. Sums it all up, I think. And, of course, most of what I write is just a thinly veiled commentary on Watts' work in many ways.

    Thanks for commentating, and please continue to do so.

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    Replies
    1. Not sure if you'll find this useful, or think it relates for that matter, but I was reminded (thanks to this and a recent Nautilus article) of a fascinating exchange I had with a commenter named George on an Aeon article some months back (all quotes are his):

      (start excerpt)

      "True space is experiential space. It is dimensionless. However, it does take on the qualities of the concepts you bring to it, and those patterns tend to be triggered by (really, "with") perception as a result.

      For instance, I am sat looking out at some hills. Those hills are at no distance from me. My experience might change from: hills "looking small" to hills "looking big", and I may link that to another change, which I may call space or time, depending. However, the true distance does not change and no time passes.

      Space and time are inferred; they are a labelling of parts of a single pattern. If something has genuinely "passed", it no longer exists and there is no record of it. Space and time are flat and now. And the so-called universe isn't going anywhere.

      The universe is simply an idea. It has no location or extent. There is nothing "going on" beyond what you are experiencing right now."
      -----------
      "To be practical: When you decide to drive to the grocery store, that isn't just causing your body to move to the grocery store - rather, it's causing the whole universe (world-pattern) to move towards the state of you experiencing-being-at-the-grocery-store."

      (end excerpt)

      And:

      (start excerpt)

      "There is a single "world-pattern".

      We call some of that world-pattern "the past". However the whole pattern always exists. It is an unbroken pattern, so all parts of the pattern are, inherently, related to other parts of the pattern. But because it is simultaneous, none of it causes another part of it. Furthermore, if the world-pattern changes, there is no record of the previous state.

      Because it is an unbroken pattern, the whole pattern shifts together, and therefore the pattern always remains self-consistent."
      --------
      "Now, this essentially means there isn't even really a "present" - rather, there is an "ongoing unfolding". A pattern which is evolving its shape, a bit like those video-feedback patterns you get when you point a camera at a screen showing its own image. If it's an old CRT screen with a bit of a smearing, then that captures the whole situation: the main pattern is slightly smeared as it goes, with a slight after-image. This smearing, that after-image which forms part of the main image, is something we called the "past" or the "context".

      Thing is, if that video image just suddenly changed dramatically and discontinuously - say, from circle-based imagery to square-based - then after a moment of tangled confusion all trace of the old circle-based imagery would be gone. All there would be, would be the square-based imagery and the square-based "smear".

      In other words, our "world" always seems to be consistent as if there is a past causing it, one that is of the same structure as "the world". But in fact, the metaphor shows us that the present is either uncaused, or caused by something quite different to any image, or caused "by itself" - the "past" is simply a part of the present image, just of a different intensity to the rest of the image."

      (end excerpt)

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    2. If you want to read that Nautilus article (which is a bit long and confusing...but it contains a Bohm mention!), it can be found here:

      Let’s Rethink Space
      Physics:Does space exist without objects, or is it made by them?
      http://m.nautil.us/issue/32/space/lets-rethink-space

      I commented as much there, and, like I said, I'd link to the full exchange (that had great additions from other commenters), but Aeon has since changed its design/format and the content has been lost to the ages (only was able to find it in my Disqus history). If it sounds familiar, I may have pointed you towards it in the past.

      Anyway, hate to pile on any more reading/suggestions, but was also reminded of "embodied cognition" and the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. The idea that "the structure of our thoughts are based on the nature of the body," and that "the metaphorical underpinnings of basic philosophical concepts like time, causality --even morality-- are rooted in our embodied experiences." Of course, though they don't go to this extent, the "embodied mind" is embedded in the world (the world being our body writ large). That said, they have a couple books on the subject.

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  3. For some reason your exchange with the commenter over at Aeon reminded me of how Newton's entire insight into gravity was simply that everything falls. But the interesting question is where are they falling to or from? It's something like a koan, as there are no rational answers, and even the question itself is nonsense, of course. But fun things to think about, nonetheless, and insightful in some ways.

    I'll have to check out Lakoff and Johnson's work...at least in short form. I'm writing a post about how morality is essentially "embodied," although I wasn't using that terminology. I do think, however, if our bodies create the universe--which was kind of the overarching theme of this post--then our bodies create what kind of universe we choose to live in. Hopefully it will be at least as interesting or thought-provoking as your posts. Haha.

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  4. Great perspective on Newton's remark! It really does contain a hidden implication/assumption of relation and direction (can something fall up?...up/down and "falling" itself harkening back to being dependent on "the structure/orientation of our body") whose explanation is ever retreating. Reminds me (in a roundabout, possibly non-relevant way) of Alan Watts waxing poetic (clearly I'm on board with the Watts influence, as well) on William James' comment that - upon coming out of a nitrous oxide trip - "everything in this universe is the smell of burnt almonds" (https://youtu.be/vwElwFB4bb0). Watts' lasered in on the the phrase "everything in this universe is" (and, more concisely, "everything is"), and how, since "all the parts of the universe are interchained in a certain measure" (Haldane) and "if you try to pick anything out by itself, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe" (Muir) then, in a certain way, everything in the universe IS the smell of burnt almonds...because everything IS. Anyway, I digress.

    And, yeah, would recommend back-burnering Lakoff and Johnson's work. If anything, Lakoff might have a lecture or two on YouTube worth checking out. I would, however, highly recommend front-burnering the book I just finished (and may have mentioned to you before) "Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing" by Jamie Holmes (http://amzn.to/1Pca0wu), appropos to nothing here. Just a lot of cool insights and anecdotes (notably, among other things, the "need for closure" and "generic parts technique").

    Speaking of apropos to nothing, have been looking for an excuse to share this with you and just figure fuck it here it is:

    The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark
    https://vimeo.com/151128399

    Great, and a short watch to boot. The other two parts are worth checking out, as well:

    The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo DaVinci was no genius
    https://vimeo.com/84022735

    The Long Game Part 2: the missing chapter
    https://vimeo.com/87448006

    Sounds like another great upcoming post, high time I just get out of the way!

    ReplyDelete

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